By Colleen Parsons MSc., BSc., BPE, CSEP-CEP
Have you ever been around a child who has just consumed some candy on an empty stomach? What happens next? I think that you don’t have to have children to know what happens. Within approximately an hour of consuming sugar, you are dealing with a melt-down. If you have ever been around a baby just prior to feeding time, you know what happens then, too. The child lets you know, loud and clear – what needs to occur. If you think that adults are immune to these events, think again. Hunger, and the rise and fall of blood sugar are hardly benign occurrences and certainly are not age specific. To get a full picture, let’s tune into your body and cover the basics.
When we consume food we consume all manners of nutrients including: carbohydrate, protein, fat, alcohol, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. For now, we will focus on those that provide us with energy (kilocalories), and leave the rest for another time.
Carbohydrates offer a relatively immediate source of energy for the body and are necessary to feed the brain (it can only use carbohydrates) and the working muscles. They are digested fairly quickly and produce a rise in blood sugar. The more whole grain the carbohydrate is, the slower the release of sugar into the blood stream. The simpler or more processed the carbohydrate, the faster the release of carbohydrate into the blood.
Carbohydrates come in the form of complex units found in whole grain foods such as brown rice, quinoa, and oats; breads, cereals and whole grain pasta. Simple carbohydrates come in the form of sugar, pop, candy, honey… but also fruits and vegetables albeit they are a little more “complex” in nature. Simple carbohydrates are more quickly released into the blood, resulting in a more immediate rise in blood sugar. Insulin is released from the pancreas as a result and the sugars are ‘dumped’ into storage – and fast. The result? A blood sugar crash within 15 minutes to one hour of consumption. The symptoms? The appearance of traits of four of the Seven Dwarfs… Firstly Happy, then…Grumpy, Dopey and Sleepy. You will feel any one or all of the following: hungry, shaky, intolerant, faint, tired and in the case of children, experience full-on “meltdown”. The lesson, carbohydrates on their own are necessary to keep the brain happy and the exercising body functioning, but can result in a short lived feeling of satisfaction. Make sure you tune into your body!
Protein is used for all that is structural and functional in the body. Protein in food comes from all of the food groups, but is concentrated in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes (beans, peas, lentils, soy products), and dairy products. Protein from animal sources is said to be ‘complete’ and that coming from vegetable sources is said to be ‘incomplete’. Regardless, protein plays a significant role in the repair and replacement of all of the body’s tissues, the immune system (antibody production), enzymes (catalysts that make your body ‘function’), bone and muscle development. Protein digests fairly slowly and can act to slow down digestion overall. This is a good thing as it allows us to feel satisfied for longer, after a meal. Protein helps to slow the release of carbohydrate into the blood, reducing any blood sugar spike that may occur as a result of eating carbohydrates. This is a key to both maintaining a more even blood sugar after a meal and in controlling appetite between meals.
Fat has been given a bad rap for quite some time. We know that it contains more calories per gram than carbohydrate or protein and can contribute to fat weight and blood cholesterol if consumption is not limited, but fats offer some really great things to the body. First, like protein, fat is slow to digest, so helps to slow digestion and give us satisfaction from our meals. Second, fat provides a nice “mouth-feel” giving foods good flavour and texture when it passes over our tongue. Third, fat offers the necessary components to keep every cell in our body happy by providing the building blocks for the fatty acid layer that allows nutrients to move safely, into our cells and keeps offending substances, out. Essential fats are the biggest component of this ‘gate keeping’ effect and are best consumed from natural oils including fish, flax seed oil, whole grains, vegetable oils, olive oil and so on. The less saturated the fat (animal, coconut, palm kernel oils or processed or hydrogenated vegetable oils) that is consumed, the better. The liver recognizes saturated fats as those best to produce cholesterol so need to be limited. In my books, if it’s solid fat or coming from some method of processing (deep fried, packaged food items), it is limited. If it is liquid oil and/or comes from food in its natural state, it is more likely a safe bet.
All of this information combined can be reduced to this. When you are putting a snack or meal together, combine carbohydrate, protein and fat together so that you
a) provide the brain with the energy it needs to function,
b) provide some satisfaction to your appetite and
c) provide a compliment of other nutrients that includes vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that you need to keep the whole body happy and healthy.
The rule that I use is if you are having a snack, it needs to contain 2 to 3 food groups (grains, fruit or vegetables, dairy, meat/fish/poultry/legumes), and if it is a meal, it needs to contain 3 to 4 food groups. If that is too much to think about, then be sure to have a protein source each time you have a snack or meal and in all likelihood you will be covered.
Are you tuned into your body or tuned out?
Sometime after babyhood, we seem to lose our ability to tune into our body’s needs and start to rely more on our sense of smell, taste and desire. When we stop listening to our body and ignore signs of hunger and thirst – things get confused. Tuning-in again, may require some practise and providing oneself with a little permission. Balancing the meals and snacks as above will help to level-out the blood sugar throughout the day. This on its own will help to alleviate cravings and get you comfortably from one feeding to the next. Avoiding meals and letting blood sugar go too far, will result in out-of-control eating at some point… maybe not today, but eventually. Our bodies require food for fuel. Matching nutrients and keeping blood sugar in check is your best defence against over-eating or over-drinking. Alcohol, especially that glass of wine or beer before dinner, can be filling a deficit that you have created by restricting your food or fluid intake and ultimately, reduce your inhibitions which may result in a meal or snack larger than you anticipated. People who skip breakfast are most likely to consume approximately 250kcalories/day more than the person who ate breakfast. People who eat once per day are more likely to consume upwards of 600kcalories/day more than the people who eat 3 evenly balanced meals per day.
Give yourself permission to eat. We need to fuel our bodies in order to be able to perform during our exercise sessions. Not fuelling well enough leaves you “spinning your wheels” like a rear-wheel drive on an icy day in February. Don’t waste your effort – eat regular, wholesome foods and cut out the ‘white noise’. White noise = your ‘dieting’ brain, the scale, and the crazy rules that we set for ourselves – that we would never set for our own children. Tune-in, be happy (and healthy).
Call out box
Spot the Fad Diet (from WebMD and Women’s Health Newsletter)
- Recommendations that promise a quick fix.
- Dire warnings of dangers from a single product or regimen.
- Claims that sound too good to be true.
- Simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex study.
- Recommendations based on a single study or testimonials.
- Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations.
- Lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods.
- Recommendations made to help sell a product.
- Recommendations based on studies published without review by other researchers.
- Recommendations from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups.
- Eliminating 1 or more of the food groups.
Call out box #2
- 55% of your body weight and 70% of your muscle weight is water. A dehydrated body runs the risk of putting greater pressure on the heart to move a more viscous blood through. Dehydrated tissues can result in injury… neither of which are desireable
- Your brain does not recognize the difference between hunger and thirst. If you think you are hungry, have a glass of water first. If you are still hungry, then you were hungry – so eat. If you satisfied your hunger with the water, you were simply thirsty
- While exercising, your system can handle upwards of 1 litre of fluids per hour. Sometimes we are losing fluids faster than this. Being well hydrated heading into an exercise session and drinking plenty of water and other fluids afterward, can keep you on top of your hydration
- To know if you are well hydrated, check the color of your urine and the frequency of your trips to the loo! A pale urine that comes frequently is the sign of a hydrated system. If you are a B-complex vitamin consumer, your urine will be darker in color – so watch the volume… it is still a good indicator.